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How Tai Chi Helps PD

Some people call tai chi “meditation in motion,” but we think it should be called “medicine in motion” because of its benefits on Parkinson’s symptoms.

If you love watching martial arts movies but never imagined yourself doing the same dashing moves as Bruce Lee, don’t give up on yourself just yet. Tai chi is a Chinese martial art that improves symptoms of Parkinson’s safely, while kicking anxiety and stress to the curb.

Tai chi is when you move through a series of graceful motions without pausing, sort of like gentle flow yoga. And just like yoga, there are myriad styles of tai chi, with each style having its own set of poses or forms. These forms, such as “white crane spreads its wings,” range from eight to 108 depending on the style.

Although the true origins of tai chi are mysterious and open for debate, the concepts are rooted in Taoism and Confucianism. The founder of tai chi is said to be Zhang Sanfeng, a 12th-century Taoist monk who left his monastery to create his own form of fighting based on softness.

To the layperson, it almost looks as if you’re doing kung fu in slow motion. But instead of gearing up for a fight, you’re engaging in a slow, choreographed dance that strengthens the body and relaxes the mind – hence the expression “meditation in motion.”

You find yourself breathing deeply and naturally while transitioning moves, which sends a calming sensation throughout the entire body. According to tai chi philosophy, that calming sensation relates to the proper flow of an energy force known as “qi.”

Ready to get started? Watch our tai chi for Parkinson’s video.

Tai chi helps alleviate common Parkinson’s symptoms

Tai chi movements are very gentle, meaning they don’t put any extra strain on the muscles or joints, which makes them ideal for people with Parkinson’s who struggle with stiffness and rigidity. Some of these moves can be done seated and can be easily adapted to varying levels of physical capability, including those recovering from stroke or surgery or in the later stages of PD.

The fear of falling, a symptom of Parkinson’s, leaves a lasting impression on the mind, which actually increases your chances of falling. Doing tai chi on a regular basis is believed to reduce that fear and decrease your chances of taking a spill.

Researchers have found that this low-impact, slow-motion exercise improves balance, posture and flexibility and can help reduce freezing episodes and the risk of falls.

People living with PD are believed to have an impairment in their proprioception, which is the unconscious perception or “sense” of movement and how our bodies take up space. Tai chi helps retrain this sense by improving the function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments.

In other words, the art of flowing from one movement to the next helps strengthen the way your mind communicates with your body.

According to a 2012 report in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team from the Oregon Research Institute recruited 195 men and women with mild to moderate Parkinson’s to participate in a special exercise study.

Participants were randomly assigned to twice-weekly sessions of either tai chi, strength-building exercising or stretching. After six months, those who did tai chi were stronger and experienced better balance than the other two groups. The tai chi group also had fewer falls and slower rates of decline in motor control.

Ever since research has demonstrated the benefits of tai chi for Parkinson’s, tai chi classes for Parkinson’s patients have been popping up across the country, and the martial art is quickly becoming an add-on to current PD physical therapies.

Additional studies show that tai chi’s calming influence is not only helpful for PD patients, but for their caregivers and loved ones as well. So why not get the whole family together for a tai chi session?

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